WASHINGTON – The union representing employees at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has charged the agency with violating the law by failing to bargain over ending maximum telework and requiring employees to return to office worksites.
American Federation of Government Employees Council 216, the National Council of EEOC Locals, filed an unfair labor practice charge against the agency after EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows blindsided the union by announcing during an agencywide town hall that employees would be required to return to offices en masse early next year. The agency intends to end the maximum telework posture under which employees have successfully performed their work during the COVID-19 pandemic and has no plans to expand the telework program that was in place prior to the pandemic, Burrows unilaterally announced. None of the changes were negotiated with the union.
“Employees are furious. Forcing everyone back to offices on the same date not only endangers the health and safety of employees, but it goes against the Biden administration’s call to expand telework and remote options,” AFGE Council 216 President Rachel Shonfield said. “EEOC considers itself the ‘model employer.’ But by failing to negotiate with the union on these critical reentry matters and broadcasting them to staff as a done deal, EEOC has violated the law. The union called out EEOC with a ULP and will fight for safety and increased telework for our employees.”
Shonfield says the union was inundated with calls from employees following the agencywide announcement. “Employees are justifiably upset by the perceived lack of concern for their safety during a pandemic and given the transmissibility of the omicron variant. By not phasing in staff and using increased telework to reduce the number of employees working in offices, EEOC is ignoring the density of its 53 offices, local COVID transmission levels, the folks who work in cubicles, and that intake rooms for meeting with the public are the size of telephone booths.”
The vast majority of EEOC employees responding to a union survey said their productivity either increased or stayed the same while teleworking during the pandemic. More than 70% of workers said they would like to telework 4 days a week or full time, with another 15% wanting 3 days a week.
“EEOC employees have done an amazing job carrying out their civil rights mission while working remotely,” Shonfield said. “Employees are angry that EEOC is disregarding surveys and listening sessions where staff expressed how effectively they are working at home.”
AFGE Field Services & Education Director Marlin Jenkins echoes these concerns.
“Governmentwide, most agencies are heeding the administration’s call to expand telework programs. Telework is being embraced for safety, efficiency, and work-life balance. Telework can save on rent and is climate friendly. Other agencies are increasing telework up to eight days a biweekly period and offering fully remote options,” Jenkins said. “EEOC is out of step if it won’t move off of its pre-pandemic program, which limits telework to just five days a pay period and offers no nationwide remote work program.
“It seems like EEOC didn’t get the message that the current administration supports the benefits of union involvement,” Jenkins added. “The solution to EEOC’s predicament is to stop acting unilaterally. I would tell EEOC leaders that they have a good union representing dedicated staff and they should listen to them. Start fresh without lines in the sand that prevent good faith bargaining to occur on reentry. That’s the law and it makes good sense.”
Shonfield said she’s concerned that by curtailing a successful remote work program and ordering staff back despite the safety concerns, EEOC could prompt a mass exodus of talented staff.
“Many EEOC employees are going to vote with their feet and leave to work at an agency or private company that offers more flexible options. This will only exacerbate EEOC’s short-staffing problems,” she said.